Dennis Byrd, a former New York Jets player, died Saturday in a car wreck outside Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Byrd, 50, played four years in the NFL before a paralyzing on-field injury ended his professional career in 1992. But the towering 6-foot-5-inch, 270-pound defensive lineman became remembered best for learning to walk again in less than a year after the accident, going on to serve as an inspiration to Jets players and fans alike.
“We are all devastated by the untimely loss of Dennis Byrd,” New York Jets Owner Woody Johnson said in a statement late Saturday. “Soft-spoken and strong-willed, the inspiration he provided to all not only by his play on the field but from the way he overcame life’s obstacles was remarkable by any measure.”
Car crash on a country highway
On Saturday morning, Byrd drove northbound on State Highway 88 outside Claremore, Oklahoma, located roughly 30 miles northeast of Tulsa, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said.
A few minutes after 11 a.m. (noon ET), a Ford Explorer traveling in the opposite direction veered into oncoming traffic, colliding head-on with Byrd’s Hummer H2.
Authorities declared Byrd dead at the crash site due to “massive injuries.”
Paramedics transported the Explorer driver, a 17-year-old Claremore resident, to St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, authorities said. The driver, who was admitted in stable condition, sustained injuries to his head, trunk, arm, and leg. A 12-year-old passenger riding in the Ford Explorer also sustained similar injuries, authorities said.
The cause of the collision is still under investigation, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said.
As news spread of Byrd’s death late Saturday, NFL players, league execs and others who knew Byrd expressed their condolences regarding his legacy
Johnson said in a statement that Byrd, whose jersey had been retired in 2012, would “never be forgotten” given the lives he touched.
In a tweet Saturday night, former New York Jets lineman Kevin Mawae described Byrd as “an inspiration to many” given his ability to bounce back from his on-field injuries.
“Dennis exemplified true determination, tremendous heart, and humility throughout his life,” Dr. Derrick Gragg, vice president and director of athletics at the University of Tulsa, Byrd’s alma mater, told CNN affiliate KTUL. “…He overcame great personal adversity after a life-altering injury on the football field. We know that Dennis touched numerous lives and will be missed by many.”
According to the Jets organization, Byrd was living in his home state of Oklahoma where he worked as both a minister and public speaker. He is survived by his wife, Angela, and his four children.